Nicotine Dependence: Symptoms, Causes, and Impact
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Written by: Sabrina Sourjah
Date Updated: 4/22/2021
Reviewed by: Patrick D. Randolph, Ph.D.
Nicotine dependence is the most common addiction in the US. The annual societal cost of smoking, including healthcare costs and productivity loss, is estimated to be $193 billion.
Nicotine is a chemical with nitrogen and can be found in plants like the tobacco plant. When smoking, nicotine is absorbed through the lungs while chewing and sniffing lets absorption occur through the mouth and nose.
According to the Addiction Center, about 50 million Americans are addicted to tobacco products like cigarettes, cigars, snuffs, and chewing tobacco. Research shows that 90% of smokers began smoking before 18 years.
What Is Nicotine Dependence or Addiction?
When this chemical enters the body, the brain’s pleasure system is activated. Hence, individuals can develop an addiction or dependence on nicotine.
Like with other addictions, the user will need more and more nicotine to maintain the same level of pleasure over time, thereby increasing the intake and developing an unhealthy dependence.
Symptoms of Nicotine Dependence
You may be addicted to nicotine if you’re witnessing the following symptoms:
- You absolutely need your preferred form of nicotine daily.
- On days that you try to go without nicotine, you experience withdrawal symptoms like mood swings, lack of focus, irritability, anxiety, depressive thoughts, restlessness, anger, constipation, and diarrhea.
- Although you’ve developed concerning health conditions, you are unable to stop using nicotine.
- You may withdraw from social situations that don’t allow smoking or friends who don’t like your habit.
Causes of Nicotine Addiction
These causes can increase the risk of becoming dependent on nicotine.
- Age: The younger you are, the more possible it is for you to develop an addiction.
- Substance use: If you’re a heavy user of alcohol or drugs, your risk for nicotine dependence is high.
- Parents and peers: Friends and family who use nicotine can have an impact on you.
- Mental illnesses: Certain mental illnesses like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia can increase the risk of addiction.
- Genetics: Your genetics can define the nature of your brain receptors that receive and react to nicotine. This may also influence the risk you have for nicotine dependence.
Impact of Nicotine Dependence
1. Overall Health
Nicotine dependence is linked to lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, leukemia, diabetes, stroke, gum disease, cataract, infertility, miscarriage, impotence, respiratory cancers, weakened immune system, peptic ulcer disease, and osteoporosis. Lung cancer risk for women and men who smoke increases by 13 times and 23 times, respectively.
Secondhand smoke can also cause stroke, heart disease, and lung cancer in adults. In children, it can cause asthma, respiratory infections, and ear infections.
2. Surgery Outcomes
Decreased blood flow due to smoking can prolong the healing of surgical wounds. In addition, the compromised immune system tends to increase the probability of post-surgery infections.
Smokers can face complications in orthopedic surgery, plastic surgery, spinal fusion surgery, and breast reconstruction surgery. Secondhand smokers can also face surgery complications.
3. Mental Health
Although mental disorders can drive individuals towards nicotine addiction, the reverse may also be true. When nicotine cravings rise and become uncontrollable, one can make irreversible decisions that can impact relationships and professional aspirations in the long term. Such adverse lifestyle impacts can result in anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses.
Studies have found a close link between smoking and mental disorders like ADHD, depression, and anxiety. According to these researchers, some individuals witness short-term relief from symptoms of certain mental illnesses. This can lead to using nicotine as a way to self-soothe, resulting in self-harm in the end.
Each year, about half a million Americans lose their lives due to tobacco-related illnesses. Research establishes that, on average, smokers live 14 years less than non-smokers. This is connected to the significant impact on overall health.
5. Life Satisfaction
Compared with smokers, studies show that individuals who quit smoking experienced a higher overall quality of life, increased health-related quality of life, and reduced stressors after three years of quitting. However, relationship satisfaction remained static between the two groups.
Does Nicotine Dependence Ever Go Away?
Experts say that the earlier you decide to quit smoking, the easier it will be to get over withdrawal symptoms. Work with your doctor and enlist the support of your loved ones for your journey of quitting nicotine.